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West Side Market tenants worry about its future after recent vendor departures, ongoing issues

Posted at 8:29 AM, Jan 07, 2021

CLEVELAND — The West Side Market is starting the new year with more empty booths after two tenants announced they would not be renewing their leases at the market in 2021.

Now, the ones who remain say that their departures are adding to concerns about the market’s future and what the city of Cleveland is doing to keep it going strong.

For the first time in more than 60 years, the Dohar Meats booth at West Side Market stands empty.

“It was bittersweet because we have such good memories of all our customers and friends and fellow vendors,” Angela Dohar Szucs, the vice-president of Dohar Meats, said.

The meat shop, along with Cake Royale, are the two latest businesses to close up shop at the West Side Market. Both shared the news on Facebook in the last few days.

Cake Royale says its closure is due to drastic drops in profits.

While Dohar Szucs said her shop’s closure had nothing to do with the market or sales, it was just a life decision.

“We are grandparents now, and not only that - my husband injured his leg a while back. And it was just difficult to run two places,” Dohar Szucs said.

Now, they’ve moved into their Parma location full-time, leaving a void at the market other tenants are desperate to fill.

“This place needs competition. That's what it's been built on,” Don Whitaker, owner of D.W. Whitaker Meats and president of the market’s tenants’ association, said. “It'd be nice if I were the only meat guy in here, but that's not what this is about. And that's not what I'm about.”

Whitaker said when older tenants move out, it's hard to find new ones to take their place because of the longstanding problems plaguing the building.

“The infrastructure, the electrical, plumbing,” Whitaker said. “Update everything so we can move into the 21st century here.”

The city has made moves to address those issues, releasing a list of goals for the market back in December 2019, and last fall, it hired consultants to come up with solutions, but Whitaker says so far nothing has been done.

“The excuse is COVID all the time and, you know, it's just so frustrating. Everyone's frustrated in here,” Whitaker said.

“I have absolutely no faith in the city's management of the west side market at all whatsoever,” Tom McIntyre, owner of Kate’s Fish, said.

McIntyre said the market’s management is understaffed and overloaded and he wants the city to turn the reins over to a nonprofit for his and all the other vendors’ sake.

“I've seen businesses close. I've seen business decline for other businesses. I, like other vendors here, want the whole market to be successful,” McIntyre said.

The City of Cleveland released the following statement Thursday:

In early April 2020, the City of Cleveland deferred and ultimately forgave the April, May and June rental payments for West Side Market (WSM) tenants in an effort to help further mitigate our tenants’ financial hardship during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our work to improve the Market continues despite the challenges presented during our collective pandemic experience:

a. Pilot of Updated Vendor Booths: Will be complete by the end of this month. Cost will be $70,000.
b. Arcade Doors and Entrance Improvements: Cost $225,000. This is currently under construction
c. New Electrical Services Project; Budgeted for $200,000. Currently out to bid.
d. Meat Prep Room Renovations; Budgeted for $240,000. Currently out to bid.
e. Clock Tower Repairs; Budgeted for $1.85 million. Currently out to bid.

Total of above Emergency Capital Repairs = $2,585,000

Plus $761,300 design cost

Total $3,324,172 to be spent in 2021

The innovation and flexibility by tenants to offer phone/online orders with curbside pickup provided an added convenience to customers. Lastly, the city is finalizing the contract with an consultant to review operations at the WSM.

Jade Jarvis is a reporter at News 5 Cleveland. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

RELATED STORY: Closing up shop: 2 local businesses announce departure from the West Side Market

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